Morecambe dairy farmer David Wannop believes in making the best of every opportunity. He manages a milking herd of 500 cows alongside his sons Joe and James and this year the family celebrates its 50th anniversary of farming at Heaton Hall Farm. David and Annette’s daughter, Lucinda, also plays an important role on the farm, overseeing all the administration and bookkeeping work.
“Opportunities come up in life and it’s up to you as a family or individual whether you want to take those opportunities and go forward. Our family has always done that. I’m very fortunate that I have two sons who are driving the business forward along with myself and we have a great team of staff. ForFarmers are very heavily involved as well – we have great support from everybody.”
While support has been key, making sound decisions has also clearly played a part in the success of the business. In June 2017 they made the move to milking three times a day, a change that has propelled yields from 10,500 to 11,500 litres per cow per year at 4% butterfat and 3.25% protein. “We’re hoping to improve on that, but the most important thing for us is to remain as efficient as possible.”
The milking herd is managed in four groups – categorised by yield (high, mid and lower) and one group of heifers. The current TMR is based on silage, ForFarmers SedaGold, a custom ForFarmers blend, wheat and oat wholecrop plus sodium carbonate and Minline Dairy, topped up with water.
“We only use one blend to keep everything simple and it’s easy to maintain consistency,” explains Joe. “We use SedaGold because it’s a good way of making our margin over purchased feed (MOPF) better because it gets moisture into the diet, makes the silage more palatable and helps boost feed intakes.”
The construction of new silage clamps in 2016 and 2018 also helped to maximise feed efficiency and make best use of homegrown forage, he continues. This has enabled the family to take more regular cuts (every five to six weeks) of grass silage.
Maintenance of their grass leys has also changed. “We’ve gone from reseeding every eight years to every six years, and we are now experimenting with direct drilling existing leys in year four to increase longevity.” The Wannops have also gone down the route of trying to direct drill the cereals to minimise cultivations and cost.
Installation of a John Deere HarvestLab on the forager (the system also fits on the dribble bar used on the farm) has also been a valuable investment. “Before we used to put the fertiliser on, then top-up with slurry. It was all guesswork whereas now we put the slurry on first, the HarvestLab records the value of this slurry, and we then top up with purchased nitrogen as required.”
This has led to savings of 6t of fertiliser on this year’s first cut application, adds Joe. “We treat each field individually and use the HarvestLab to maximise everything that we’re trying to get out the grass.”
James manages the youngstock and dry cows on a second site. Attention to detail has helped improve efficiencies here too. “To bull heifers at 12 months we realised they have to be kept inside.”
Improved management and forage all played a part but housing them meant they weren’t being subjected to the vagaries of the British weather. “It’s constant and that’s how we find we can serve heifers at 12 months and then they come into the herd and perform really well.”
At 25.6p per litre the Wannops have one of the highest margin over purchased feeds (MOPF) within the ForFarmers client base, says account manager Philip Ambler. Measuring MOPF is about ensuring a return on the investment in feed. “We want to be sure that when we’re feeding cows and we’re coming up with the right nutrition solution, that it’s the right financial solution as well.”
The excellent forage produced on the farm was central to their success and ForFarmers’ dry NIR analysis gives a good understanding of the forage and how it performs, he continues.
“But equally with the introduction of OptiFeed over the last 12 months, we’ve been able to better utilise that forage. Rather than looking at the average cow that we were previously feeding, we’re now looking at the outliers as well and understanding why those outliers aren’t quite performing.
“We’ve identified the barriers that were there previously to cow performance and by removing these barriers, it’s really letting the cows express their natural potential.”
While delighted with the progress made in recent years the family believes there are more improvements to be made. A new parlour and technological investments are all within sight as the family concludes its current long-term plan and develops the next plan to take the business on for the next 50 years. “We are always planning ahead,” says David.